Climate change’s impact on SWFL insects

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro Writer: Paul Dolan
Published: Updated:

The pace of global heating is forcing insect populations to move and adapt while some aggressive species are thriving.

Insects are thriving, but some in different ways than others. Just like anything, there are winners and losers. The losers, in this case, are the insects that can’t take the heat or other factors like excessive drought or excessive rainfall, while the winners are the pests that nobody wants to see thriving.

Mosquitoes are considered the deadliest animal on earth by the number of people killed. In freezing temperatures, they struggle and their eggs die off. On a warming Earth, they thrive, conquering new areas, growing faster and living longer.

WINK News spoke with Dr. Joyce Fassbender, an entomologist at Florida Gulf Coast University, about what’s happening with the insects.

“As it warms, the insects that can’t handle that warmth are going to move to other areas,” said Dr. Fassbender. “Unfortunately, this includes a lot of our pest species like our mosquitoes, so as it warms the areas that normally get mosquitoes a month or two out of the year are going to start seeing them longer and longer periods of time.”

Fassbender knows an unbalanced insect world at the hands of climate change is a dangerous one.

“At three degrees over historical norm, we’re going to lose about 50%,” said Dr. Fassbender. “At about two degrees, two and a half degrees over [the] norm, we’re going to lose around 25 to 30%. Even if we make it to one and a half, it’s still going to be at least six to 10%.”

The big concern is for the pollinators that call Southwest Florida home because those population numbers are declining.

“Eighty percent of flowering plants are pollinated by insects,” said Fassbender.

Most of the crops that we eat require those insects, and some of them just can’t take the heat. Others need colder environments to complete their life cycle. If they can, we will start to see them move.

“These often rely on plants that may not be there for them in that area, so it can mean significant decreases to extinction for certain populations because of it,” said Fassbender.

Fassbender said the sad fact is most species aren’t flexible to moving. Rather, they’re specialized and adapted to where they live.

You may not care about a rare moth in the Himalayas disappearing and never coming back. However, losing our pollinators or having to deal with mosquitos year-round is an alarming thought for Fassbender.

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